David Hume was an imperialist philosopher who revolutionized scientific argument and methodology with his skepticism. His arguments about the way people though up to his day, and still today, are fundamental in explaining how we gain knowledge and what we do with this knowledge. Hume helped pave a road leading toward a higher state of consciousness for humanity with his theory concerning the perceptions of the mind. He divided the minds perception into two distinct group’s impression and ideas. With these two classifications Hume rationalized the depths of human understanding.
Impressions consist of the perception regarding all that is seen, felt and heard. Ideas are formulated thoughts based upon impressions. They are the perceptions of the mind involved with thought rather than experience. Hume used impressions to test the relevance of ideas through his “microscope” system. This theory challenged the mind to test out inconsistent ideas by means of the impressions. The essence of ideas and impression defines the nature of the mind and all that it perceives. Together they rationalize clear and distinct thoughts and sensations Impressions are lively perceptions that implore all the sensation and emotion that the mind perceives. They are not misleading, for their essence is based entirely on experience.
It is a perception that ignites the way all is felt, seen, or heard. External causes or objects effect the senses, influencing the way the mind perceives things. For instance to understand the essence of a rose is to recognize that it is red, the pedals feel like silk, it smells of sweet perfume and it evokes happiness. All of these perceptions are derived from the senses. Beautiful words could never conjure enough realism to replace the reality of seeing a rose. A poem written by Ernest Hemmingway describing the beauty of a rose would still act as a dull substitute for the actual experience. An impression is superior to any idea. Hume claimed that, “The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation,”(Hume, 10).
Sensation is the only real attribute of the mind and it serves as focal point for all ideas and extensions of thought. Impressions have the ability to stand independently; they do not depend on any other elements to make them seem more real. They can always be relied upon; there is no chance of making a mistake when regarding them. Impressions are original in their state of being and never act as a counterfeit. They are dazzling and sound. Impressions are derived from inward and outward sentiments. Outward impressions are caused by external perceptions.
These consist of the sounds of a thunderstorm, the sensation of rain on the skin and seeing the electricity in lightening. It includes all the perception that the senses experience first hand. Inward impressions make up all of the internal perceptions. This includes feelings and emotions that are evoked by external extensions. The emotions: loyalty, compassion, misery, depression and romance are all categorized as inward impressions. Seeing a shooting star and feeling lucky as a result of the sighting is an example of an outward impression causing an inward impression. The two impressions define one another.
Ideas are the feeble perceptions of the mind. They are the reflections of the sensations experienced from impressions. Ideas are codependent on impressions; they cannot exist without their influence. They are at least when simple, like impression but imperfect.
Ideas cannot be trusted or relied upon to be consistent and true. They seem on the surface, to be infinitely powerful with the ability to transcend the limits of the mind. However, in actuality they are limited to the impression that formulated them. The creative boundaries of the mind are restricted to having only the ability to transform bits of memory that were copies of past experiences. Hume argues that a blind man can never formulate an idea of a spectrum of colors.
For he has the absence of the sense of sight. A spectrum of color can only be comprehended by seeing and experiencing its beauty through the eyes. Impression of color can never be copied without the sensation of sight. This principle applies to ideas based on outward impressions as well as those based on inward impressions. For example, it is beyond the capacity of a man who is a womanizer to ever comprehend the idea of monotony. It is beyond his power to understand the meaning of being faithful to a woman, if he’s never experienced doing so. The mind would combine impressions to compose an idea that resembles what being monotonous feels like. All he would be able to do is construct an idea of faithfulness by combining copies of different inward impressions.
Ideas are apt to getting confused with resembling other ideas. When ideas are employed without the accompaniment of clear and distinct meanings they tend to mislead the mind. Ideas are therefore the faint images of impressions when thinking the reasoning about them. Impressions and ideas relate to one another in that ideas need impressions in order to exist. Hume believed that, “Every idea is copied form a similar impression,”(Hume, 11). For every simple idea there is a simple impression which resembles it.
Likewise every impression has a connected idea. All ideas in their appearance are derived from impressions, which are interconnected to them, and are represented by them. New ideas can only be constructed from impressions. Hume claims that an idea of God can be reached when the mind constructs impressions of infinite intelligence, all powerful, and merciful characteristics. Together these attributes form a perception of God. These characteristics and perceptions arise from the mind reflection on goodness and ability to formulate an extension of a being. Combining real impression to formulate ideas stimulates a perception of God.
The idea of God serves as an example of the power of ideas and impression ability to work together as a single unit. Hume proposed a way of distinguishing reasonable ideas from preposterous ones. He believed ideas must be tested by impressions. This system has been branded the “microscope” theory by many of Hume’s students. If an idea seems unclear and false one should take that idea and try to trace it back to its original impression from which it is derived from. In a sense one is inspecting an idea under a microscope in search for the slightest detail to prove it’s nature. The microscope theory scrutinizes an idea until finding the influence of its impression. For instance could it being proven that the sky could be brown? Although the color brown is not usually a prevalent hue of the sky one could put it under the microscope to see if that idea is true.
I search my brain for memories concerning the weather and what the sky looked like at the time. The sky is usually brownish overcast when it is cold and about to thunderstorm. There are also times at around 5 o’clock in the morning when the golden sunrise is clashing with the night sky giving off a brownish tint. After tracing back memories of impression on the colors of sky under my microscope I can conceive of a brown sky. This test proves how Hume would test ideas with impressions. I think that Hume’s distinction between ideas and impressions serves as a cumpus for human understanding concerning the mind. Hume wrote his interpretation on ideas and impression in a way that was clear for many to understand.
Many philosophers write in a manner that seems to entertain themselves and their pears, rather than the public at large. Hume’s description of the perceptions of the mind helps separate ideas and sensation for easy interpretation. It is obvious to see that ideas are simple copies of impression developed by experience and sensation. I believe Hume makes a bold stance to say that the dullest impression will always be superior to the greatest idea. He is claiming that even his own expressions and ideas on philosophy are pretty much inferior to anything in nature or in human feeling.
Hume also claims that even the most beautiful poetic verses could not substitute experience. Yet sometimes poetry enhance the way humanity perceives the world. Thoughts can be just as dramatic as perceptions.
I feel as though Hume did not credit imagination enough in his analysis of the mind’s perception. The formulation of complex ideas however needs not to resemble the original impressions. We can use our imaginations and develop an object without ever seeing it’s influence. Among ideas, those that do return a considerable degree of quality of the original impressions belong to memory, while other ideas belong to imagination. The mind has the capacity to imagine. However, I agree with Hume that most ideas are just augmentations of the many combined impressions we experience. Ideas based on inward impressions are impossible to conjure up without influence of impression.
The idea of love or pain can’t be comprehended without experience. The idea of love must always be derived by an antecedent impression of pleasure. Imagining what love is like can never act as a substitute for the actual sensation Hume’s “microscope” theory was a brilliant and simple formula designed to distinguish false ideas. It is built on the foundation of impressions. He is proving his theory of ideas and impressions with the microscope idea. Since impressions influence all ideas they then have the power to prove if these ideas show their influence.
It is as if Hume developed the theory to prove to everyone how sound his ideas were. It worked. I looked at some of man’s most complex creations and looked to see if I could find any type of influence of an impression. For most of all my ideas I was able to trace them back to impressions. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were debates, as there are today, about how much of what we know is something we learned through experience and how much of what we know is something we could have reasoned out using our human intelligence without the benefit of particular experience. Hume added considerable insight concerning all the perception of the mind and helps develop a system to differentiate the relevance of ideas. He distinctly and clearly stated that the only truth the mind has is based on the sense experience.
Hume shed light on the mind perceptions that was completely new and different from other modern philosophers. In the process he challenged the world to look at life from a new angle and understand their minds extension with a new appreciation.Bibliography: